A footballer goes down with an injury - whether real or imagined - and the team doctors come jogging out with a bag of tricks in an effort to coax the writhing player back to his feet. Almost inevitably, no matter what part of the body the player is clutching in anguish, the attending doctor pulls out an anonymous looking spray can and gives the player a liberal dousing of white mist.
Usually used on freshly crunched ankles, Achilles, shins and knees, the mysterious magic spray has even been used on profusely bleeding mouths, like Spain defender Gerard Pique's. After taking a kick in the kisser during a match against Honduras last Monday, the already battered and bruised Pique accepted a spritz right into his open yap like some sort of industrial strength breath freshener (pictured above) before getting it stuffed with a glob of cotton.
[Photos: The many anguished looks of Gerard Pique]
Sometimes it works like spinach for Popeye, sometimes it only serves as a stopgap until the stretcher arrives, but for a while now it has been a mainstay in speedy on-pitch medical treatment.
So what in the name of aerosol is it?!
Well, as Slate's piece on the matter from 2006 explains, there are actually a few different "magic sprays" that are used depending on the problem and the situation:
They might use cold water, for example, to cool off an overheated athlete. Or they might spray an abrasion with a tincture of benzoin so they can stick a bandage on some sweaty skin. It's safe to assume that some magic spray cans contain "skin refrigerants," chemicals like ethyl chloride that freeze and numb the surface of the skin on contact.
Skin refrigerants provide a brief spell of anesthesia which can, at times, be enough to reduce the stinging pain of something like stud marks on an ankle or, at least, make the player think that it's helping. And while they certainly won't cure something more serious like, say, torn knee ligaments or a shotgun blast to the chest, that momentary relief can be all it takes to get a player back up and in the game.
Of course, when broken down like that, it doesn't sound nearly as magical, but it definitely is still a spray.
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- Gerard Pique